Public Health Amendment (Juvenile Smoking) Bill

About this Item
SpeakersNile Reverend The Hon Fred; Chesterfield-Evans The Hon Dr Arthur
BusinessBill, Second Reading

Page: 6317

    Second Reading

    Debate resumed from 24 October.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [4.28 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party [CDP] is very pleased to support the Public Health Amendment (Juvenile Smoking) Bill, which was introduced by the Hon. David Oldfield, because it will amend the Public Health Act 1991 to create certain offences aimed at reducing the use of tobacco products and non-tobacco smoking products by people under the age of 18 years. As honourable members know, the CDP has led the way with bills designed to protect the health of the citizens of New South Wales with regard to the use of tobacco products.

    We had the privilege of introducing the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Bill and the Smoking Regulation Bill, both of which were passed by the House. The Smoking Regulation Bill was designed to prohibit smoking in public places. It was taken over by the Government and amended to allow smoking in hotel bars and so on. The CDP did not agree with that because it watered down the original legislation. Moves are now finally being made to prohibit smoking in all public places, and the CDP commends the Government for pursuing that goal. The Government will be vigorously lobbied by the Australian Hotels Association and casino operators, but that should not stop it.

    This bill is part of an overall move on tobacco products, which are extremely harmful to the health of people around the world. I am deeply concerned that while health bills are being passed by various governments in our Western society—whether in Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States—for that reason the tobacco industry is conducting a vicious promotion campaign in the Third World countries of Africa, Asia and South America, where I gather it is having some success. That is a tragedy for the health of the people in those underdeveloped countries, because not only do they have health problems caused by tobacco but those countries lack adequate health care facilities to care for the people who contract lung cancer and other diseases as a result of smoking. Obviously, not many people start smoking when they are 25, 30 or 50 years of age. The majority of people who smoke started smoking in their young teenage years, even as young as 12, 13 or 14 years of age, and they are the people who are most vulnerable.

    I believe that the tobacco industry is targeting those individuals in many clever ways. Even though there are restrictions on tobacco advertising, recently I observed the cunning of the tobacco industry in producing what appears to be a silver cigarette case, into which one places the packet of cigarettes. Obviously it is not made of silver, but it has the appearance of silver. I understand that the silver cases are very cheap, or are perhaps even provided free. However, the silver cigarette case covers up the warnings on the cigarette packet that is placed inside it; only the brand of the cigarettes is shown. It is a very clever way, on the part of the tobacco industry, of undermining the Parliament's intention of including health warnings on cigarette packets. It is a clever merchandising ploy by the tobacco industry, which is not short of ideas on how to get around the law. I recall that some years ago, at the time when tobacco posters were banned, tobacco-selling outlets arranged a series of cigarette packets together to create a poster effect.

    This bill is therefore very important. Given that the majority of people who smoke start smoking under the age of 18, we need to consider methods of reducing young people's temptation to smoke, and thereby reducing the opportunity for those individuals to become addicted to nicotine. Not surprisingly, health research shows that nicotine has a more powerful impact on young people. Apparently, nicotine withdrawal is more serious in a growing young person than it is in an adult. We know how seriously nicotine affects adults. Indeed, some members of this House are affected by nicotine, which is a drug. Even though they know that smoking is harmful to their health, their demand for nicotine is so powerful that they are prepared to risk their own health. Even members who are doctors, and are obviously aware of the literature on the subject, find it very difficult to break the habit.

    The bill will change the legislation so that, by law, persons under 18 years of age will be prohibited from smoking tobacco and non-tobacco smoking products. It will also make it illegal to purchase tobacco and non-tobacco smoking products on behalf of a person under 18 years of age, or to send a person under the age of 18 to premises for the purpose of purchasing any such products. Importantly, the bill does not penalise under-age smokers. Indeed, section 58 (3) provides for a police officer to seize tobacco and non-tobacco smoking products from a person reasonably suspected of being under the age of 18 years. Section 58 (2) specifies that a person who contravenes subsection (1) is not guilty of an offence, but may be given a caution or warning under the Young Offenders Act 1997 as if the contravention were an offence to which that Act applies. The bill is not draconian legislation under which under-age smokers will become criminals; it is simply a further step in discouraging young people from commencing the habit and finding in later years that the power of the nicotine addiction makes it very difficult to break the habit.

    It is extremely important for the whole society that legislation such as this is put in place. I am aware that bills to be introduced by other members are in the pipeline. Some time ago the Hon. Richard Jones introduced a bill regarding smoking in cars, which was another positive move. This bill is simply one means of tightening up the current law. The bill has the potential to assist in the prevention of the introduction of smoking to people at a young age. If we can achieve this, we will have fewer adult smokers and hence fewer smoking-related illnesses, together with the associated costs. Various statistics have been quoted, but I am aware of statistics that show that one of every 10 people in public hospitals is there because of the health problems caused by smoking. Obviously, if the number of people who have health problems caused by smoking were reduced, the pressure on the public hospital system would also be reduced. In turn, this would save revenue and taxpayers' dollars, and the savings in funding could be directed into other health services and facilities, including improvements to our public hospitals.

    Members may be surprised to hear that smoking is a major killer of people in Australia. It is also statistically proven that most regular smokers were introduced to smoking when they were juveniles. Indeed, the vast majority of adult smokers started smoking very early in life, usually between the ages of 12 and 16. According to surveys, more than 107,000 secondary students annually smoke $32 million worth of illegally obtained cigarettes. Of the $32 million in sales, around $13.5 million goes to the New South Wales Treasury, $7.5 million to the Federal Government, $6 million to tobacco companies and $5 million to retailers. Further, tobacco use is the biggest single, preventable cause of both cancer and heart disease, causing more than 80 per cent of all drug-related deaths.

    I know members are concerned, as I am, that when one passes by a high school prior to 9.00 a.m., before classes have commenced, one often sees groups of teenagers smoking. Sadly, in many cases the majority of those students are female. It seems that males, perhaps because of sport and other factors, may be responding to the health department's anti-smoking campaign, Quit Smoking, in larger numbers than female students. It would be interesting to conduct a survey to ascertain why that is occurring. One of my theories is that perhaps females feel that smoking is a way of proving their adulthood or femininity. Perhaps it is a flashback to women's liberation that young women think they should smoke. Obviously, the health department's Quit Smoking campaign will need to focus more on teenage girls than it has in the past.

    Tobacco diseases are responsible for one in every seven adult deaths, killing several thousand people in New South Wales every year. It is estimated that smoking causes 21 per cent of all cancer deaths and 13 per cent of all new cases of cancer. New South Wales businesses lose $2 million each working day to tobacco-related sickness, absenteeism and medical retirement. Because of the success in prohibiting smoking in public places, people are coming out of their offices and smoking in the foyers of office buildings. This is happening all around Parliament House in Macquarie Street and all around the city. Those people who work on different levels of office buildings go down in the lift and congregate in the foyer to have their smoke. Some people may argue that it is equivalent to their coffee break, or whatever break they have, but I would suspect they still have a coffee break or morning and afternoon tea, all additional time taken from the employer who pays those people to produce a day's labour.

    That practice raises further health problems. Many people smoke in the foyers, and others who may be non-smokers and may be affected by smoke have to walk past a small congregation of people who are smoking. Even when people smoke in semi-open air areas surrounded by breeze or wind there is no doubt that smoke is present. I have seen that myself. Because I am asthmatic, when I am walking in the street I have to look ahead and anticipate where I am going so that I do not walk into one of these areas and be surrounded by cigarette smoke. People who are worried about their health need to avoid those areas but sometimes it is not possible when they have to enter an office block and there are people smoking in the foyer where they have to walk through.

    In 1998 more than 142,000 Australians were hospitalised due to illness caused by smoking. It is hard to be accurate on the figures but I have heard that one-tenth of the beds in public hospitals are filled by people with smoking-related illnesses. More than 940,000 hospital patient days are swallowed up each year by tobacco-related illnesses. This bill is very important and is just one small step forward for our community. Only the tobacco industry stands to lose as a consequence of these amendments. Losses to State revenue would be more than offset by reduced health costs. The bill allows the police to confiscate tobacco and other products and to issue warnings and cautions to underage smokers, but it does not seek to criminalise under-age smokers. The bill sends a strong message to children that smoking is bad for people's health and that the Government has made it illegal. I commend the bill to the House.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [4.43 p.m.]: Tobacco causes disease. We must use the word "cause" and not say that a disease is "tobacco-related". That phrase is a hangover from the 1950s and 1960s, when the tobacco industry did not know that tobacco caused diseases—and for the following 15 years it pretended that it did not know. We now know that tobacco causes diseases and that the phrase "tobacco-related" should not be used. Hemlines and the stock market are said to go up and down together, but their rise and fall may not be related. About 13 deaths occur every day in New South Wales, and about 45 deaths per day throughout Australia, as a result of tobacco-caused disease. Every two days we lose almost as many people from tobacco-caused disease as were lost in the Bali bombings, yet we get no action on it.

    It is very disappointing that the Government, which introduced the Smoke-free Environment Act in September 2000 and asked clubs and pubs to establish a working party to work out how they would go smoke-free within a strict 12-month timetable, has managed to delay that process for more than two years with a do-nothing committee that has not set any firm smoke-free timetable. The Government appears unwilling to act by imposing a timetable on people who continue to allow smoking in pubs in the mistaken belief that restrictions will damage business. I believe that is scare tactic by the tobacco industry. The position of the Australian Hotels Association has always been indistinguishable from that of the tobacco industry. I am not sure that the Australian Hotels Association position represents the opinion of most hoteliers. Only a few may be active and, guess what, they are the ones who are somewhat close to the tobacco industry: the tobacco industry was named on their web site as a sponsor of the Australian Hotels Association.

    It is farcical that 52 years after Richard Dol—later Sir Richard Dol—showed that tobacco caused lung cancer, the hotel and club industries still resist going smoke-free. Instead those industries try to put up absurd tokenistic voluntary codes they hope will be approved by the Government to absolve them of the liability to drive the campaign against tobacco use in Australia. That campaign has been left to activists and others—some of whom have been killed by lack of action in relation to the tobacco industry—who are driving their way through David and Goliath tort cases: people such as Leisel Scholem, Rhola McCabe and Roy Bishop, who took on the Surveyor General's Department way back in the 1970s. There has been a complete lack of action by the Government on the Smoke-free Environment Act yet it wants to big-note itself by supporting a measure that will achieve little of what needs to be done in New South Wales.

    Funding of the Quit campaigns in California amounted to US$7 per head per year and that was a cost-effective way to reduce health costs. That is the equivalent of about A$14. We are puddling along at less than $1 per person in New South Wales and that is having precious little effect. The Government will not run a decent quit campaign—indeed, it never has—and does not have the guts to tell the hoteliers to go smoke-free despite the fact that 71 per cent of people wanted that in 1984. A plebiscite was held at that time of all the people of middle-class North Sydney, in association with a local government election, and most people said they wanted smoke-free restaurants. That was many years ago and the Government still refuses to take on the hoteliers. Last week I went to two different clubs where the air was absolutely vitiated and appalling because of recirculated cigarette smoke. The working party is totally dominated by the hotel industry, whereas the unions and health groups who are in a minority on the committee are still being led by the nose. There is no Government leadership on this issue.

    What has to happen to seriously discourage kids? We have to discourage adults from smoking, and we have to encourage the whole society to stop smoking. The idea that we must look after kids but not adults, as they have already made their own decisions, is a nonsense. People are addicted and they rationalise. There are members in this House who rationalise. This morning I saw the Hon. John Fahey, former Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. I reminded him that in 1991 I begged him to make workplaces smoke-free, as recommended by WorkSafe, but he would not do so. Since then he has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Today he said he would like to do something. He will be giving a speech to the Cancer Council, but he is out of politics now. The person who is influencing that decision is Nick Minchin, who has arranged at a Federal level for a subsidy for research by the tobacco industry. He is taking a very hard line and has asked very pro-tobacco questions at a Senate select committee to which I spoke.

    We cannot stop kids from smoking unless we also stop the adults. Therefore we need to put in place a program that actively discourages smoking. Many people believe that we must use non-smokers to get smokers to quit, but it is in the interests of smokers to have a policy to reduce smoking. People should be discouraged from smoking at a workplace level by authorities subsidising the programs and making them far more accessible. Instead of mealy-mouthing we need to be serious about tobacco and the exemptions to some sports, particularly motor racing, which has been totally irresponsible and tobacco driven. The Dutch grand prix has been cancelled because that country would not lean on tobacco sponsorship. The Dutch people are very lucky. I never trusted the rugby league because of its prolongation of tobacco advertising. That is what sponsored tobacco advertising in Australia for a decade. Rugby league happily pocketed the money with no regard to the harmful effects of tobacco on Australian kids.

    As tobacco advertising has been slowly ratcheted down, the tobacco industry has become more cunning. Once smokers smoked in ignorance. Actors Gary Cooper, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen all smoked and they all died of lung cancer. The evil tobacco companies had advertisements for cigarettes included in film scripts to make it exciting to smoke, using the villain as an interesting character. The new generation of actors, Winona Ryder and Arnold Schwarzenegger, took money for smoking in their movies. Basic Instinct was an interesting film: it was so successful in telling healthy people that they were silly fuddy-duddies and tough people smoked that Philip Morris introduced a cigarette called "Basic" to capitalise on that publicity. Recently I read an article by the writer of Basic Instinct, who has since developed carcinoma of the tongue and has undergone radiotherapy. His condition may well be terminal and he is extremely guilty about the harm he caused with his film script in his younger, Rambo days.

    Actors who are aware of the harmful effects of smoking are paid to smoke. The Insider depicts how a big tobacco industry tried to destroy the evidence when it became aware of the harmful effects of tobacco. The film starred Russell Crowe, who has taken up smoking since that film. The question is whether he has been paid to do it. I believe, because of the way he shows cigarette packets and lights a cigarette at appropriate times during interviews, that he deliberately smokes. That is immoral. The clothing and entertaining industries have also been very busy. I believe that Kate Moss, a very famous model, promotes cigarettes. Carla Zampatti—

    The Hon. Dr Brian Pezzutti: She doesn't smoke.

    The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: She does not smoke. Carla Zampatti gave feedback to Rothmans. Those industries have been extremely immoral and the Government has been slow to take action against them. It is important to encourage the unacceptability of smoking in indoor public places and places of entertainment. The public service went smoke-free in response to a case involving the Surveyor General's Department, a decision by the head of the public service, a Renaissance man Peter Wilenski who later became the ambassador to the United Nations. At the time I thought that decision was made because he understood the necessity for it, but it may well have been in response to the tort cases against the department.

    Research carried out at the time that the Australian public service went smoke-free showed an immense decrease in smoking. If that were to happen in all places of entertainment, recreation and hospitality there would be a corresponding drop. The Government has been cowardly in not adopting that approach. The bill provides for seizure of tobacco and cautioning of children, and makes supplying a crime. The bill also provides for identification similar to that required for alcohol purchase, but it is really tokenism. It is poor psychology to expect children not to smoke when adults smoke. Children copy adults. They internalise the norms and recognise hypocrisy instantly. Many education programs have tried to prevent children from smoking, but they are doomed to fail because society as a whole does not adopt a non-smoking program.

    Philip Morris, through a program called Right Decision Right Now, is seeking to educate children about the harmful effects of smoking. If the kids had not previously regarded smoking as a big deal, then the promotion of the program encouraged children to make a decision about it and act immediately. As they were doing nothing, the only decision change meant that they would take up smoking; if they had not tried it they could not make the right decision. The program resulted in an increased rate of tobacco smoking. I would like to believe that was purely coincidental, but that is extremely unlikely. We should not expect children to act differently to adults. Originally the bill sought to criminalise children. The Democrats do not believe in criminalisation. Society needs a spectrum of penalties for offences that should be strongly discouraged, such as murder and rape. The Hague convention seeks to discourage obesity, smoking, alcohol and dangerous driving. We should work out what measures we should take to minimise harm from each behaviour and whether it should be criminalised or whether progressive methods of discouragement should be adopted, such as economic sanctions, behavioural changes and so on.

    This bill adopts the normal paradigm established for alcohol abuse and brings tobacco within that paradigm. That is a reasonable proposition, but the question is whether the law will be enforced. The number of prosecutions for selling cigarettes to minors is extremely low, as the police do not regard that offence as important. Health officers generally do not prosecute, except in isolated areas in which they have a particular interest. The policing of this measure was particularly good in Gosford. Generally speaking, children can still obtain cigarettes. It will be interesting to see whether the bill makes any difference. If this legislation is not strictly enforced I believe it will make little difference.

    The bill is a step in the right direction but it is not the major step that needs to be taken. The Government seeks credit, yet it is being extremely hypocritical in not going the whole way, as has always been the case with tobacco control. What is needed is a tobacco termination bill under which the industry is legally wound up, as happened with the asbestos industry. The money from cigarette sales can be used to encourage people to quit smoking, a habit that has continued for approximately a century and caused immense public harm. The industry does not really care. I support the bill. I note that Ash Australia, which initially did not support the bill when it criminalised children, does so now. However, this bill is not really what is needed for tobacco control in New South Wales. The Government should get on with the main game and inject money in the order of $13.70 per person per year into Quit campaigns.

    Pursuant to sessional orders debate interrupted.